King County Prosecutor Candidate Forum Renton Chamber of Commerce - Leesa Manion and Jim Ferrell
Over the years, we have seen the decline of civil society in King County. Violence and destruction have become the daily norm and have negatively and disproportionately impacted communities in South King County as our King County prosecutor has passed the buck to cities. State laws have created unfunded mandates and ambiguity leading to inaction and have made enforcement of drug dealing, car theft and other criminal acts significantly more limited. Violence involving guns has escalated as well as violence involving knives and other weapons. People are paying close attention to this election. This forum provides a detailed synopsis of the root causes of our lack of civility and increasing crime and drug addiction.
Leesa’s Opening Statement
Leesa recited her tired platform with empty words and false data based on a system that has been set up to sweep crime under the rug while praising effectiveness of programs that lack any accountability to the public, businesses, taxpayers and, most importantly the many victims of crime who know all too well that crime and recidivism is indeed way up.
When asked how she would be different than Dan Satterberg, she said she would use the megaphone attached to her voice and take a strong stance on illegal behavior. She would hold a Public Safety Summit, reimagine the mental health system that currently does not have enough state resources and take a collaborative approach.
Her priorities would be sexual assaults, the backlog, organized retail and property theft in the Seattle downtown core and public safety in all communities. Sexual assaults are important to her as a woman and a mother of a young daughter.
One must wonder if crimes that are not relevant to her would also be equally important.
She mentioned the Seattle downtown core is one of her most important, but one must wonder if other downtown cores will be equally important.
Jim’s Opening Statement
Jim served as prosecutor in Renton between 1995 and 1998. He is endorsed by about 15 local mayors. As mayor, the #1 issue he hears about in his city is public safety. He mentioned the 5000-case backlog and said he will address this with urgency. He mentioned 500 of these are sexual assaults and 180 are murders. He will adjust the Filing and Disposition Standards for how cases are filed and approached. This has created a schism between communities and the prosecutor’s office. He will take a fresh approach. He will create a Conviction Integrity Unit. He will ensure that people not only are safe but feel safe.
Jim Regarding Jury Trials
There has been a shift toward calling the justice system a “Criminal Legal System” but it should still be referred to as “Criminal Justice System”. He believes that there are disparities, but this can be addressed via identification procedures. He referred to the Innocence Project as an example. There should be objective best practices and implicit bias training.
Leesa Regarding Jury Trials
There are racial disparities in the “Criminal Legal System”. She uses the word “Legal” because not everyone believes in Justice. Disparities have nothing to do with identification procedures as mentioned by Jim. The data alone tells us this. Racism is built into the system. There is a racial intersection between equity and social justice. Implicit bias training, cultural competence training and a Sentence Review Unit to look at cases that are exceptionally long, the data dashboard with race incorporated and inviting participation of communities are a few solutions mentioned.
Per Leesa, the state will now review police use of force. Local prosecutorial discretion is still needed because the state has no authority over filing decisions. Also, it will take time to hire investigators.
Per Jim, regarding officer involved shootings, the King County prosecutors still have the power to prosecute. This should be based on facts. This requires true objectivity. Nobody should be above the law.
Jim Regarding the Backlog
Jim said there is a need to triage homicides and sexual assaults and a need to expand the bandwidth by bringing in retired judges and add courtroom space and get these cases through. There was a backlog even prior to COVID These cases don’t get better with time. He cited a particular homicide case that sat in a drawer for 12 years before it was permanently dismissed. Triage needs to occur for all cases whether they are filed or not. There is a need for justice. Seattle has a public plan to address misdemeanor cases. King County should as well.
Regarding the 12-year case that sat in a drawer, Leesa said it was a case that was charged, received a conviction, and was overturned by a court of appeals. The offender was serving a life sentence in prison already and they chose to prioritize more urgent cases.
Leesa Regarding the Backlog
She does not believe it is necessary to have a special commission to address the backlog. They have already secured extra funding to address it.
Money is flowing in, but how many positions are being filled to address the backlog? Is the extra staffing all that it takes to address the backlog, or could there be a more streamlined process or strategy?
Leesa cites effectiveness of their current approach saying property crimes are down by 20% and violent crime is down by 30% since January.
What Does it Mean to be Pro Police
Per Jim, it means to be pro truth and pro accountability which is why he supports body warn cameras. He would terminate anyone on the Brady List. He mentioned his endorsements from law officers as evidence that he has supported police. Officers are very concerned with the statement that crime is down. Currently car theft is up 88%. He would be a presence in Olympia. He believes that the defund police movement is rooted in years of historical pain for people who have not been listened to or not treated well. Despite this, most expect police to be fully staffed and responsive. Now that Seattle is down 400 officers, they can’t investigate sexual assaults. King County is down 100 corrections officers. As a mayor working with other South King County mayors, he has approached the KC Prosecutors office and got pushback and stats citing low crime. Officers are confused about where their authority lies. Retailers are not calling police. Police are not arresting. We need to hit the reset button.
Per Leesa, it means removing officers who abuse their authority. It means focusing on common ground issue of wanting a response from police and wanting de-escalation. She intentionally refused police endorsements because of the public integrity unit. She wants reviews to appear unbiased. She mentioned her significant other who has served 35 years in law enforcement. She knows how dangerous it is. She does not believe in defunding the police. The defund movement has come from years of hurt. We need police resources, but we must acknowledge the disparities and de escalate. She said that long ago in 2017, car theft and repeat burglars were an issue. Due to a high priority offender unit working with the Seattle City Attorney’s office, she says these crimes are down. She emphasized training police officers and will attend meetings to collaborate and support.
She mentioned reaching out to Kent, Des Moines, and Federal Way. When she reached out to Federal Way Police Chief Hwang, he said on her voice message “I don’t have a problem with your department. We know you are working hard and there is no reason to meet”. She didn’t mention the context and timing for reaching out.
Jim Regarding the Quoting of the Federal Way Chief of Police.
This is a disservice to our chief by citing vague “we are doing OK” statements from a voice message. Leesa should talk to the chief of police before casually throwing his name out in front of thousands of people to say that the police doesn’t support my candidacy or supports yours. Leesa retorted that she had reached out to him about concerns, and he said he had none with my office. She took that at face value.
One must wonder what the context and timing was for reaching out. It could have been after the passing of the recent state laws that were hindering our police.
Leesa Regarding Abortions
As a woman and mother of a young daughter, I will not prosecute these cases. I believe in safe access.
Jim Regarding Abortions
He believes a woman’s right to choose should be supported. He mentioned his overall concern of the erosion of personal liberties over the past 50 years that are the core of individual rights. He would never engage prosecution related to this.
Jim regarding Filing and Disposition Standards
He addressed the inflation of these standards that has essentially shifted burdens to cities. He mentioned the increase of one value from $750 to $2500 as an example. He has tried to facilitate outreach with King County. They met repeatedly with KC at the Tukwila Community Center and received nothing but pushback and stats of low crime.
Leesa regarding Filing and Disposition Standards
Leesa mentioned that state law set this amount prior to 2008 as a $750 statute. Due to serious budget cuts, the amount was changed to $2500 at the county level. She said the statute was based on home values prior to 2008 of 300,000 and needed to be updated based on more recent home values. She said King County has partnered with the Seattle attorney’s office to aggregate values and take to a felony when possible.
Leesa regarding Drug Offenses
Leesa mentioned the WA Supreme Court decision to decriminalize drugs. She mentioned the Blake decision recriminalized but there is no infrastructure. She said we need a well-funded and organized system to address drug offenses. We need a database that tracks where offenses are occurring, when they occur and what the outcomes are of current policy. She believes it’s important to work with the experts on relapse and it’s not necessary to involve law enforcement. Law enforcement needs the support of community-based treatment. She believes LEAD is one tool in the tool kit to address substance use disorder.
Jim regarding Drug Offenses
He pointed out the misinformation that is out there regarding the WA supreme court ruling. It is just one word that is missing from the law. Adding “knowingly” was the fix. The legislature refused to add this. Instead, they implemented a system that requires 2 prior warnings that is unenforceable due to no database. We needed King County Prosecutor leadership to address this.
Jim talked about common sense laws that are easily executable and understandable. He cited an example where Norm Maleng adjusted prosecution to level 8 offenses pertaining to drug laws. Regarding people shooting up in the streets, they should not be in jail but should be getting help.
He does not support LEAD. We want help and recovery not enablement. LEAD is far too optional. WA state legislator has created a de facto legalization which is a permissive use and approach. We are not helping people and that’s what this is about. We are exacerbating the problem and it’s getting worse. We need to help people in crisis.
Leesa’s Question for Jim
Leesa asked why Jim Ferrell would support Mike Solan who represents 1000 police officers when he is fighting against transparency and was present at the January 6 insurrection. Jim said it is his understanding that Mike was there in a professional capacity and was found not to be in violation. He called out the nefarious finger pointing, going after a conservative leader and the personal attack on the integrity of all of PD.
Jim’s Question for Leesa
Jim asked Leesa why she refused to go after those that were looting and stealing in Bellevue. When Bellevue walked the cases into the prosecutor’s office those cases were not filed. Dan Satterberg did not stand up and say looting is wrong. Leesa said these cases were prosecuted and shared.
A question was asked by a Renton reporter - How will you respond to cases that help define WA state pursuit laws as they are implemented?
Per Leesa, the laws change over time and reflect the value of community. They must be followed.
Per Jim, he believes that this law is a rare outlier and needs to be fixed. Until then, he would go with the best evidence to prosecute the case. He stated that laws are currently getting passed in a vacuum of inexperience and he would work to provide a backdrop for legislatures.
Is food insecurity a root cause of committing crimes or is the root cause mental illness or is it something else?
Per Jim, when people are stealing food, they should be treated with respect and dignity. We need to ask why and is it a one-time incident? How do we get them where they need to be? There is only a small percentage of cases where someone steals because they are just hungry. Most are in crisis and have also been victimized. The goal is to get the offender back on track. People that he has helped before have approached him and thanked him. It is not the job of the prosecutor to solve homelessness or house people. The prosecutor’s job is to take referrals from police departments and file or not. The KC prosecutor’s office is not doing a good job. In the last month, prosecutors have been dispatched 28 times for homicides in King County.
Per Leesa, we must provide basic needs to improve safety. People are amenable to treatment with basic needs met.
Restorative Community Pathways
Jim mentioned the launching of RCP by King County with no notice. SKC mayors found out about this program on a zoom 6 weeks after it was launched. This is a failure to communicate. Jim wants to know what criteria are used to make a diversion decision. What is the program? There are 5-6 offenses that should not even be on the list. Taxpayers deserve transparency and accountability. The program should provide a meaningful opportunity to course correct to help people. Currently this is a look the other way program. He mentioned that King County sought zero input from cities and this was a breach of trust. There is no case number, no check back and this is for serious crimes such as robbery, assault and bringing a gun to school. To minimize these crimes is concerning.
Leesa mentioned that out of 391 qualifying juvenile cases, 302 have been referred to RCP. Leesa mentioned that all 9 county council members voted in favor of the program. She said the request for proposals were widely publicized. She said it is disingenuous to state that the program was implemented under a cover of darkness. She also stated that a King County representative appeared before our Federal Way City Council.
What is disingenuous is that RCP was voted on because it was hidden deep within a King County budget document as one of many items with zero details about the plan. Only later was there an actual implementation plan. Also disingenuous is her statement that they met with the FW city council. This meeting took place after rollout in response to a cry for collaboration by community having been left out.
Leesa says the program is not a free pass but according to the nonprofits, there will be no end to the opportunities to course correct even if they commit additional crimes. Leesa said that nonprofits meet with families in homes on evenings and weekends. The program pays insurance deductibles. In Washington State, all juvenile misdemeanors require mandatory diversion. King County has decided to add in nonviolent felony offenses. To date, they have referred only 1 case involving a firearm in a backpack at school and another case involving a bb gun at school.
Regarding Law Enforcement Endorsements
Leesa mentioned her law enforcement endorsements are specific retired LE. She mentioned Anne Kirkpatrick who is an active LE who used to be a FW police chief. She avoids endorsements of police chiefs because they work for a mayor, and she doesn’t want to politicize. She also avoids police union endorsements because these are from an organization vs an individual. She says her individual endorsements show that they share her values and desire public safety.
Jim said that he is proud of his endorsements. While he supports police overall, he would still handle individual cases as needed that require accountability. He is endorsed by those who are willing to put names and representation behind his to ensure safer communities.
What are good things that Dan Satterberg is doing that you support?
Jim supports community court and would support RCP with a fix of accountability and removal of felonies. The victim needs to feel justice.
Leesa supports restorative Community pathways (RCP). She said that community pathways has had diversion since 1978. Washington state law requires it. She said that RCP is the most effective and most modern. She cited a recidivism rate for RCP of 8% vs 22% for detention. She also supports drug court, mental health court and veteran’s court. She disputed Jim’s support of community court since that is city related as opposed to county related.
Were the mask mandate laws passed to support disadvantaged communities helpful to those communities?
Per Jim, there was a mass exodus from Seattle and they are now down 400 officers. It will take years to fully staff the department. He does not believe this was due to the mask mandates. It was due to lack of appreciation, and reforms. The community wants a fully staffed PD. In Federal Way, Jim mentioned the addition of 13 new officers.
Leesa said the drop is due to the pandemic, retirements, the mask mandate initiated to protect safety, and some are tired of the profession. Policing has not always been even in black and brown communities and Jim agrees with this statement.